Sainsbury’s hires DTI veteran for top PA role

Sainsbury’s has appointed Erica Zimmer, principal private secretary to Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, as its top lobbyist.

Zimmer joins the grocery retailer from the DTI at the end of January as head of public affairs and corporate social responsibility. She will head a seven-strong team and report to director of corporate relations Jan Shawe. She fills a role left vacant by the departure of Tim Fallon to Hill & Knowlton (PRWeek, 15 August).

According to Shawe, Zimmer secured the job against two other shortlisted candidates. ‘Erica has a wealth of experience in Whitehall, covering a broad spectrum of industry sectors,’ said Shawe. ‘There are many bits of Whitehall that we as a business touch, including employment, training and farming issues.’

Zimmer has been at the DTI since 1987 in a variety of policy advising roles. She became PPS to Hewitt, as well as head of the ministerial and parliamentary support team, last year.

At Sainsbury’s, head of property PR Tina Christou has overseen the job since Fallon’s departure. She resumes her core role when Zimmer arrives in the new year.

Zimmer is likely to bring a robust knowledge of competition policy and trading issues. She joins Sainsbury’s at a turbulent time for the supermarket sector.

Key issues under her remit include the transparency of food labelling, potential regulation on competition in the sector and relationships with suppliers. Sainsbury’s recently developed a voluntary code of practice to shape policy on supplier relationships.

The industry’s big players stand accused of abusing their dominant positions to mistreat small suppliers. This issue is likely to become more prominent with the pending acquisition of Safeway by Wm Morisson.

Zimmer’s arrival comes as Sainsbury’s struggles to keep pace with supermarket rivals Tesco and Asda.

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